The digital age has opened up a truly amazing array of international music scenes, and one of our favorite things at ThrdCoast is to seek out bands that hail from countries you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be on the cutting edge of the art world. Wrocław, Poland’s electronic duo Oxford Drama is just such a group, and we were excited to sit down with singer Małgorzata (Gosia) Dryjańska and instrumentalist Marcin Mrówka recently (via a somewhat uncooperative Skype connection) to talk about what’s going on out in Eastern Europe.
We covered their almost catastrophically bad band name ideas, their collaborative songwriting process, the emergent electronic music scene in Poland, and even got some hints about their upcoming releases. Despite some minor issues with the language barrier, it was a lovely conversation, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we did having it.
ThrdCoast: First off, what made you decide to get together to form Oxford Drama in the first place?
Małgorzata Dryjańska: It was a really spontaneous decision when we decided to make music together. It was just at the beginning of February, and we recorded our first song, “Teal,” without any real plan of what we were going to do next. But we thought it was the right decision at the time to record the song and do something with it.
Marcin Mrówka: We were really surprised by the feedback that we received from friends, family, and so on, and also a couple of people from the outside. It really gave us the motivation to carry on with it.
TC: So how do you guys know each other?
MD: Well, you know, it’s not the sort of thing where we just met in February and decided to make music. We’ve known each other for about two years now.
MM: Three years, come on!
MD: [Laughs] Right, three years. I think the fact that we listen to a lot of the same bands made us feel like we could work together and write music together.
MM: Plus, I have another project on the side, and I’ve been playing with some other friends for a couple of years. But for quite some time I was really struggling to convince Gosia to create a project with me. She has beautiful vocals, and I thought it be great to collaborate with her.
TC: How did you each get your respective starts in music?
MM: I’ve been into music since, I don’t know, I think around 2007 when I was fourteen or fifteen. The beginning was pretty typical, I played a bit of guitar, but only recently have I started collecting little synthesizers and stuff. I really got interested in rock music and electronic music, and I thought it might be a good idea to just start doing that sort of thing.
MD: A couple of years ago, my friends told me that I had a nice voice, so they convinced me to do something about it. I stopped for a while because I wasn’t really sure what exactly I wanted to do, but a year or so ago I started an electronic project. After a while the person I was working with and I decided that it wasn’t exactly what we wanted to be working on. It wasn’t really a harsh breakup or anything, so we went our separate ways and I ended up starting the project with Marcin.
TC: Where does the name come from?
MD: That’s a great story. We were really struggling to come up with something, and we were so desperate that we even thought that the name Great George was good [laughs]. We were looking for something that sounded new and strange, but in a way that made you want to get to know the band better. But it only took us a couple of minutes to realize that that was a horrible idea. I found the name Oxford Drama in my university sketchbook, and we decided, yeah, that’s the one.
MM: We had some hesitation, though, because a couple of our friends told us that the name was too similar to another band, London Grammar. We figured that didn’t really have to be a drawback, though, because they’re British, we’re Polish, and we weren’t really influenced by them.
TC: Can you tell me about your songwriting process? Is it pretty compartmentalized, or do you both do a little bit of everything?
MM: Well, what I’ve observed is that currently most of the bands that consist of two members, where one is a woman and the other is a man, the guy is responsible for the music and production and the girl primarily does the singing. With us, Gosia’s impact is a lot bigger than writing lyrics and creating vocal melodies. She’s really involved with the process of composing songs, and she’s also really great support when producing. We record all of our music at home, and she’s always sitting by me, really patiently observing what I’m doing in Ableton and offering her advice.
TC: Speaking of lyrics, why did you decide to write yours in English?
MD: I never really had a moment where I thought I could write lyrics in Polish. Not because I hate the language or anything, but English comes easier. When I’m thinking about lyrics I’m normally thinking in English rather than Polish. For me, it’s definitely easier to do it that way and create melodies to them.
MM: There’s something more to it, though. We’re both studying in the same department of English Literature and Linguistics, and most of our lectures and tutorials are in English. In recent years, we’ve really gotten more used to thinking in English than in Polish. So this is a really natural process for us.
TC: Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
MM: I started my musical journey with U2, but I wouldn’t really put that in my “most influenced by” list. I think the bands we’re both most influenced by are The Smiths, Tame Impala… who else, Gosia?
MD: The Beach Boys, Kate Bush. A lot of the oldies and recent ones together.
TC: Can you talk a bit about the themes and ideas you cover in your songs, and what sort of stories you’re trying to tell?
MM: Go for it, Gosia.
MD: [Laughs] I’m going for it. When I’m writing lyrics, I don’t really want to act like I’m really poetic and like I’m writing great art or anything. Like I said with choosing the English language, I just try to do what comes naturally. I’m not trying to write about my life or my stories, or trying to convince anybody that the story is about them. I try to write what I feel when I’m listening to the music itself, so sometimes it’s a spontaneous line that pops into my head, and sometimes it’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking about beforehand. It could be a word, or an object, or a person, or a thing. I don’t want to be some kind of modern poet, really high-brow or anything [laughs]. It’s just about the music and what I feel when I hear it.
MM: I would say lyrics aren’t necessarily the least important thing, but they’re probably not the most important part of Oxford Drama.
TC: Changing gears a little bit, what’s the music scene like in Poland?
MM: I used to have the impression that Polish music was really behind the music in Western Europe and American music, in the sense that Polish artists hardly ever appeared on international sites like Pitchfork. A few years ago, though, the Polish electronic scene seemed to evolve really rapidly. Now there are a few artists and producers who have gotten some international fame, not as famous as the really top-notch artists that headline festivals and that sort of thing, but their music has started to be appreciated by people outside of Poland.
TC: Have you guys performed internationally at all?
MD: We would love to. We only played our first gig about a month ago, and we’re going to play a couple soon, but no international tour dates yet. There’s still a lot of work to do [laughs].
TC: Are there any other Oxford Drama projects on the horizon? Maybe a full-length album?
MM: Just today I began recording the instrumentals for our newest song, which we’ll hopefully release early this summer, maybe July. A new acquaintance of ours has proposed to remix “Asleep/Awake,” and we’re really looking forward to hearing the finished track. We’d also like to release another EP in autumn, which will be recorded at home like before, but the mixing and mastering will be handled by someone from an actual studio. We were happy with the production of the first EP, but it’s not loud enough. There are some things that I’d like to change, but I don’t necessarily have the skills or acoustic environment to do everything we want to do.